Butter. We've all eaten with it, cooked with it, baked with it. Or have we? Have you ever used and tasted real butter? One that comes from cream produced by grass fed, free range cows, and then hand crafted into a gorgeous and luxurious pat of butter. Or do you drop by the dairy section in Woolies and pick up the $.99 stick on special? Trust me, that isn't butter my friend. This is butter!
Lately I've been really interested in the origins of our produce and food products and the characters and talents behind them. So one night recently I had a little wine-fuelled courage and pinged the Pepe team on Twitter about coming by for a visit sometime soon. And I was pleasantly surprised when they quickly came back and offered for me to drop in some afternoon to see what their butter was all about.
When I originally told the Gourmet Female that I was going to see butter made she scoffed. "Can butter be that interesting?", she asked. But she came around at a BBQ when I told my mates I was going and their reaction was, "Wow, that sounds cool! Wish I could go." But I think that there are a number of great food producers out there who are proud of what they make and want people to know that there is definitely a difference between the mass-produced stuff and the products that are made with love and care.
So after navigating my way from the station to their warehouse, I walked in and was followed closely by a couple - who I would happily find out were part of the team over at Brasserie Bread. That's now definitely on my list for a visit! In any case, we walked into the office and I met Pepe himself. I have to admit, I wasn't sure if it was just a brand but no, Pepe is a real live, friendly, energetic, and passionate butter maker who is proud of what he and his team make every day.
Once we donned the obligatory protective gear we spent a bit of time in the cold room, sampling the cream in its various stages, starting with cream, then culminating in creme fraiche. I've always known that as a country we require cream to be pasteurised but it's hard to appreciate the effect of that until you understand that the pasteurisation process kills all the active bacteria in the cream. So Pepe has to use his own to get the process going.
The creme fraiche is then churned until it splits and you end up with "popcorn butter". The team use various types of churning machines, trying to get the best consistency and process control.
What's interesting is that as we watched the team wash the butter balls Pepe mentioned that this is a step that many restaurants miss and this is why their butter goes off after a couple days.
What you end up with is some amazingly tasty butter. Seriously, when you taste this stuff on the tip of a knife you think, "What the HELL have I been eating all these years? That wasn't butter, this is!".
Where it gets really interesting is when you begin watching the team mould the butter into the various packages - BY HAND. It was amazing to watch everyone plow through the butter, shaping them for their restaurant clientele. So precise but so unique - each little packet is different. Pepe mentioned that they tried some industrial packaging techniques but it just didn't have the same result and charm. I almost wanted to give everyone a little hug and say, "Thank you! This is awesome. You're doing God's work."
We then watched the team put together some big sized slabs of butter for the Brasserie Bread team. I can only imagine what tasty baked treats it'll end up in. Croissants? Sourdough? Damn, I'm hungry...
In the end, it was only an hour or so but it was one of the more enjoyable food experiences I've had in a while. Pepe had so much passion in his product and it was touching to hear how he tried to explain to his dad that making premium butter was a business risk worth taking. "Artisanal to me means it's something that I can share, something I care about, and something special", he said.
To top things off he shared some of his amazing butter and creme fraiche with me. And then we got on the subject of wings, buttermilk, and buffalo sauce. I think someday I need to make some proper Frank's Buffalo Sauce and drop it by. Made with Pepe Saya butter, of course!
"There are many amazing butters in the world and here's to hoping Pepe Saya will be one of those." It will be mate, it will be. Keep doing what you're doing and they will come to enjoy an amazing handmade product. And thank you for sharing your passion and process with me. Awesomeness.